Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh speaks at his office in Gaza City , Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010. Haniyeh on Wednesday denied Israeli allegations that al-Qaida operates in the territory and that Gaza militants planned to carry out attacks in neighboring Egypt.

Hamas PM: We're ready for referendum on peace - CTV News


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip Hamas would respect any peace deal reached between Israel and Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, provided it is approved in a global Palestinian referendum, the top Hamas official in Gaza said Wednesday. In a rare news conference for foreign media, Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of Gaza's Hamas government, staked out seemingly pragmatic positions. He said Hamas seeks dialogue with the West and wants to be "part of the solution, not the problem."

He also denied Israeli allegations that al-Qaida operates in Gaza and that Gaza militants planned to carry out attacks in neighboring Egypt.

Haniyeh is considered a leading member of Hamas' pragmatic wing, and the Islamic militant group often sends mixed messages. When Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resumed in early September, other Hamas politicians quickly criticized Abbas for attending those talks.

Negotiations have since run aground over the continued construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, war-won lands claimed by the Palestinians for their state.

In his news conference, Haniyeh was also highly critical, saying negotiations seem pointless. "Israel wants a full surrender from us and we are not going to do this," he said.

Nonetheless, he said his government remains committed to the referendum idea which was part of a short-lived Palestinian unity deal reached in 2007, a few months before the violent Hamas takeover of the territory.

Referring to that document, Haniyeh said that "we don't have a problem with establishing a viable Palestinian state with full sovereignty on the land that was occupied in 1967." Those territories include Gaza, along with the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

In recent years, Hamas has tried to reach out to the West, and its supreme leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal, has expressed support for a Palestinian state in 1967 borders.

At the same time, Hamas has not revoked its founding charter which calls for Israel's destruction, and Hamas officials won't say whether they see a two-state deal as a final arrangement or a step toward eliminating Israel. Israel argues that Hamas hasn't given up its goal of eliminating the Jewish state.

"If Hamas really wanted to reach out for peace, it could have done so very simply by accepting the three conditions of the Quartet (of Mideast mediators), which are to recognize Israel, recognize past Israeli-Palestinian agreements, and abandon terror," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor........... (Continued)